Stumping up for their predecessors: How today’s players are giving back

06 Apr 2017

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The finish of a cricket career can be an isolating experience. The Past Player Program is the current players’ way of helping out.

“I’m very thankful to the ACA for helping me and, when my cricket career ended, not letting me hang out to dry,” Former Victoria rookie Brett Forsyth said.

Richard Bennett felt that if Australia’s top cricketers were willing to fund a health program for past players, the least he could do was make the two hour trip from Launceston to Hobart to attend.

It might have been the most important trip of his life.

Bennett, who played 35 first-class matches for Tasmania between 1984 and 1992, saw the 2016 annual Health Day as a chance to connect with old teammates and chat with current players. But when a doctor found a suspicious mole on his leg, the day took on a different meaning.

“They took details and photos of it, which they sent to a specialist, who then sent it to my GP,” Bennett, 51, said.

“My GP arranged for a sample to be tested and once we found it was a basal cell carcinoma he took a chunk of my leg out.

“Then, blow me down, I turned up a fortnight ago to this year’s Health Day and they found a thing on my neck, which I’m having off tomorrow.”

Skin cancer can be a potentially lethal by-product of hours spent on cricket fields. Former Test captain Michael Clarke had three spots removed. The late Richie Benaud and Max Walker each battled melanoma.

It’s one reason Australia’s players decided in 2012 to direct their 26 per cent share of net revenue from the 2015 World Cup to the establishment of a Past Player Program. The initiative, co-ordinated through the Australian Cricketers’ Association, has become a two-tiered policy, incorporating Game Development and Personal Development. It offers lifelong support services which complement the ACA’s Professional Development Program’s suite of services available to all current players and is now funded through contributions from all contracted male players.

The Game Development component features over 300 ACA members coaching and mentoring young players, creating a direct link between past elite representatives and the game’s grassroots.

The Personal Development component supports with medical costs, career transition and education post-cricket. One feature is an annual Health Day held in each state, in which 250-odd past players come for a medical check, as Bennett did.

“We know through our research and other sources that, due to the increasingly professional nature of sport, transitioning athletes into meaningful employment is taking longer,” Past Player Program National Manager Clea Smith said.

“This is particularly the case for females, who aren’t getting the wages to set themselves up. They come out the other end five or 10 years behind their non-cricketing colleagues from a career perspective and hardly a penny to their name.

“Research also show that every year in the game narrows the player’s outside networks, making them quite isolated when they leave. Our service tries to address all of that.”

Smith described the Past Player Program as “an incredible show of unity” between current players and their predecessors. She said feedback and uptake had been phenomenal across the nearly 2000 coaching events so far. About 90 per cent of the ACA’s 1200 past players have participated in some aspect of the program.

Cricket Australia supports but does not contribute to the Past Player Program, which is reliant on the current revenue sharing model. If that model changes in the next Memorandum of Understanding, which is currently being formulated, the program’s future would become uncertain.

If the Past Player Program were not available, Brett Forsyth’s life would look very different. The rookie-contracted Victoria Bushranger was forced into retirement due to a severe knee injury, which resulted in two operations.

“When I got the news I was pretty fearful. ‘What’s my life going to look like? How am I going to make an income?’ There was a lot of pressure,” Forsyth, 28, said.

The Past Player Program assisted Forsyth with medical and rehabilitation costs, including counselling sessions where he set a plan for his future. Deciding upon a career in teaching, he enrolled in short courses before attending Deakin University, where he completed a four-year degree in Health and Physical Education. The program helped with fees.

“Now I’m a qualified teacher working at different schools,” Forsyth said.

“It was a long transition but a very successful one because it’s allowed me to move into the second phase of my professional life.”

Forsyth tapped into the Game Development aspect of the program as well, training players and working with school teachers on how to coach youngsters. Through the ACA’s Premier Cricket Program he has stayed involved at his club, Dandenong, as a player, coach and mentor.

“Once things end, sometimes you can get a bit bitter and disappointed,” he said.
“But, with the ACA’s help, I was able to keep that positivity about the sport and also help out as well.

“I’m very thankful to the ACA for helping me and, when my cricket career ended, not letting me hang out to dry. They’ve looked after me physically, mentally and helped me in my career and transition.”